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Sans Pujols and Fielder, NL Central suddenly easier to win
1. St. Louis
The St. Louis Cardinals seemed to be riding a magic carpet for two months last season, turning a 10.5-game deficit in the wild card chase into a World Series win. At least some — if not all — of that magic left town with Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. But the Cardinals have enough talented veterans to win the division. Catcher Yadier Molina is the heart and soul of this team now, and the return of Adam Wainwright certainly helps. Due to Lance Berkman’s age and Carlos Beltran’s recent history and David Freese’s only history, the second, fourth and fifth hitters in the lineup are huge injury risks. If the Cardinals stay reasonably healthy, new manager Mike Matheny will enjoy his first ride at the helm.
NL MVP Ryan Braun will miss the presence of Prince Fielder in the Milwaukee lineup, no doubt. Having Aramis Ramirez on deck while you’re hitting just isn’t the same. But the Brewers have a solid rotation and proven bullpen and cannot be counted out.
The Reds signed closer Ryan Madson to a one-year deal, seemingly going all-in for 2012. But Madson needs Tommy John surgery and suddenly things don’t look so bright. Cincinnati made a huge ($225 million) commitment to keep Joey Votto in town for what could be his entire career. The Reds learned from the proceedings in St. Louis and Milwaukee this winter and were determined to keep their star first baseman.
Pittsburgh is still young and some of its hyped position players are beginning to blossom. But where are the pitchers? GM Theo Epstein has the huge task of rebuilding the Cubs in front of him. The Astros are young and building for their move to the AL West in 2013.
Best Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke, Milwaukee
Best Hitter: Joey Votto, Cincinnati
Best Manager: Dusty Baker, Cincinnati
Rising Star: Shelby Miller, St. Louis
Most wins next five years (2013-17)
1. St. Louis
— Charlie Miller
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